Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Shipping News - Annie Proulx

"At thirty-six, bereft, brimming with grief and thwarted love, Quoyle steered away to Newfoundland, the rock that had generated his ancestors, a place he had never been nor thought to go."

The Good: Quoyle lives the life of a sad cliche. His family doesn't like him, his wife has affairs behind his back and he's socially awkward. His only thought is for his children, Bunny and Sunshine. When a situation causes them to move from Mockingburg, New York to Newfoundland, Canada, home of Quoyle's ancestors, he finds himself in over his head. Proulx is a master manipulator in this story as she forces the reader to sympathize with Quoyle's situation. He's dumped into a new setting, new country with only his children and Aunt Agnis to keep him company.

The descriptive detail in this book is fresh and full. "In the bay they saw a scallop dagger halfway to the narrows, a wake like the hem of a slip showing behind it." I feasted on this line because I loved it so much and you can look forward to this richness throughout the story.

Proulx makes Newfoundland come to life. This is likely due to the fact that she splits her time between there and Wyoming. This may not be the kind of Newfoundland you know though. It has this wild and dark, mythical side to it that you may have heard as a stereotype about the province. Incidentally when this book came out, there was some controversy about Proulx`s portrayal of Newfoundlanders. Some people from the province thought readers would assume these stereotypes were true. I would say the novel does nothing to dispel the stereotypical view of `The Rock` and its inhabitants but you have to remember this is Fiction. This is clearly stated on the back of the book.

Watch for the chapter titles. Each relates to a type of knot and informs the reader on the content of the section. Chapter One is entitled "Quoyle", 'a Flemish flake is a spiral coil of one layer only. It is made on deck, so that it may be walked on if necessary.' This gives you an idea of Quoyle`s character even before you start reading.

Something that deserves mention is the book won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1994.

The Bad:Proulx's writing style is unlike anything I've read before. Her syntax is fragmented and her removal of pronouns interrupts the fluidity of the story. For some this may be difficult to get around.

As well, a suspension of disbelief is required as various coincidences and other `unbelievabilities` pop up throughout the book and would be difficult to take otherwise. This includes the strange characters with quirky names like Billy Pretty, Tert Card and Beaufield Nutbeem.

The Ugly: Please note, this novel is not for everyone. The climax of the story occurs at the very beginning of the story and settles into a slow denouement. This is completely contrary to the normal story arc. This a quiet, steady book about family and the idea of home. It is not, I repeat, not a page turner. That being said, I enjoyed the stillness and contemplative quality that rose out of the book. For those who like stories about how a person can change and the influence of the land on the mind, this book is for you.


cinefille said...

I have been meaning to read this for the longest time. Sigh. Maybe this summer when I actually have time to read for pleasure.

The duck thief said...

It was an interesting book but if you're looking for something really exciting then search elsewhere.